Friday, June 21, 2013

Osaka, Japan

We are now at the half-way point of our trip. We've spent a night on the airplane, four nights at the hotel near Tokyo Disney, a night in Nikko, a night in Tokyo and we are about to crash for the night in Osaka.

Each day continues to bring new adventures. Today I figured out how to use a machine without pictures or words in English to order lunch. I had curry chicken udon suki (noodles and meat in a rich broth served in a ceramic stew pot). I think the traditional version should have had buckwheat noodles, but I had one with regular noodles instead. Even our friends were impressed with my ability to order from the machine.

My other accomplishment was buying train tickets using a vending machine. For this there was a button to switch to English (much to the amazement of our friends, it looked like a magic trick), and the friends told me which station we were going to and how much money the machine wanted.

Osaka is the most American-style town we are going to, even though it is still mostly in Japanese. The biggest difference is here when using the escalator or stairs, the crowd stays RIGHT instead of LEFT. It was enough of a change to make me a little more comfortable getting navigating the area.

Since we opted to leave after rush hour rather than get another super early start, we did not arrive in Osaka until 1:30. A little more planning and we should have bought sandwiches in Tokyo to eat on the train. By the time we checked into the room and had lunch, it was after 3:30. 

We took a subway to Osaka Castle. We were having so much fun taking pictures and meandering that we nearly missed going inside the castle. The castle will be celebrating its 400th anniversary next year (or rather the 400th anniversary of the death of Toyotomi Hashiba). The castle looks like a 5-tiered wedding cake on the outside. Inside is filled with Hashiba’s rags to riches story that led to the building of the first Osaka Castle. The first one was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1665. Thanks to a giant public effort, it was rebuilt in 1931. Two years ago they celebrated their 80th anniversary of the current building. Osaka Castle reminds me of Disney in that way – always a reason to celebrate.

Throughout the day it rained on and off. The word on the street is that the typhoon is still headed our way. says it will rain all night tonight and only have a 10% chance of rain tomorrow. That would be ideal.

We heard the magic “go home” music of Auld Lang Syne, which makes us think of New Year’s Eve. They very efficiently and effectively kicked us all out of the 8 story building.

Given how overcast it is, we decided to postpone our plans to see the Floating Garden in the hope that it will be clearer tomorrow night (it is in a really tall building in Osaka). We took a leisurely stroll all around the castle and bumped into people setting up a water station for a race. This was one of many times I wished I spoke Japanese. The translation was not proceeding the way it could have because our friends do not speak race lingo. The best I could determine, there was a 5K and a 10K race that started at 7 PM as it was
getting dark. I think (understanding races) the 10K started first, the 5K started later? Or else we saw the 10K people finishing around the 40 minute mark. I just don’t know and a quick Google search did not find the race. Before I left the States a friend encouraged me to search for a small local race. I didn’t. I even left my sneakers back in Tokyo. It would have been fun, but it would have tied up most of our time in Osaka. Fortunately I did not see any finishers’ medals, or else I would have really been kicking myself.

For dinner we tried a local specialty: okonimiyaki. Basically it is a pancake cooked with meat and vegetables on the table. Ours also had meat in it. Don wants to start making this instead of crepes for brunch on weekends. 

Unfortunately Ashley was not too fond of it, but I bet she would like it with some Nutella and bananas tossed inside of it. The food was originally created in 1700 as a Buddhist ritual food.

This brought us to 9:30 PM and Ashley’s pumpkin time. She is still waking up super early – anywhere between 3 AM and 6 AM. I guess I have a bit of the opposite problem as I’ve enjoyed staying up close to midnight updating the blog, charging electronics and copying pictures to our mini-laptop. Now if only the wifi will stay connected long enough for me to post this.

More pictures of Osaka

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